eve the restaurant’s last eve
Restaurant closes suddenly after seven successful years
ALEX PARIS THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Eve Aronoff’s Cuban-themed restaurant, Frita Batidos, opened in December on Washington Street in Ann Arbor. After eve the restaurant closed, Frita Batidos became Aronoff’s main focus.
Servers squeeze by patrons waiting near the door, often having to excuse themselves from accidentally putting their hands where they don’t belong whenever they try to steady themselves. The tables are so close together that when one couple gets in a fight over dinner, the table next to them tries to scoot that one extra inch away. There are no more reservations, and the place is running out of some of their wines.
Does this sound like a dying Ann Arbor restaurant?
Whether it does or not, die it did. On Jan. 16, eve the restaurant closed its Kerrytown doors for the last time.
“At first what was going through my head was I kind of can’t believe that,” said Andrew Murawski, an eve employee for more than four years and a server for three. “We were getting more reservations than ever before and usually after the holidays, it’s completely dead.”
Employees found out on Jan. 5 that eve would be closing. They would have 11 days until they were out of work.
A few of the employees had heard rumors, however, so the closing wasn’t a complete shock.
Still, with a head chef that was featured on the show “Top Chef” and celebrity patrons like of David Arquette and Courtney Cox (during the couple’s better days), it was a bit confusing.
“On Dec. 28, I was in Detroit eating at Slow’s BBQ. I know one of the bartenders there, and he said, ‘I heard you guys were closing,’” said Noah Israel, a server and bartender who worked at eve for a little more than a year. “That was the first I had heard about it.”
Eve Aronoff herself, the executive chef of “Top Chef” fame and owner of the restaurant, barely knew about the closing before that. She had been in negotiations with her landlord, Kerrytown, and had hoped that she would get a one- or two-year lease extension. Kerrytown required a 5-year extension however, and an agreement could not be met.
“I wasn’t sure I believed that it was the best space (for eve the restaurant),” said Aronoff. “We really needed forty more seats. There’s not a lot of foot traffic to make up for that either.”
Aronoff said the decision to close was much more complicated than that, though. She’s also been working with a fractured sacrum for six months.
“Everyone around me has been super supportive, but it’s just hard to get better when I’m working at both places,” she said.
The other place Aronoff refers to is Frita Batidos, a Cuban-inspired restaurant she opened in downtown Ann Arbor on Dec. 7. Since it opened, she said she’s been working nonstop, sometimes going for literally 24 hours straight.
“It’s still challenging, but having two places put it over the edge,” she said.
Still, Aronoff didn’t have plans to close eve the restaurant on such short notice. After all, many of the employees have worked there for years, and they often call each other “family.”
“The people I worked with were certainly the best people I’ve worked with in Ann Arbor,” said Israel.
Some of them will continue to work for Aronoff at Frita Batidos, but others are out of work for the time being. Murawski said that he was glad to at least have eve on his resume; the local fine dining restaurants know the quality of eve’s employees.
Zingerman’s is one popular place that eve employees have applied. If hired, they may work in the exact same location; Zingerman’s Deli will be moving some of its operations into the space. The deli will take over the assets as well.
Even though the closing was sudden and sad, Aronoff is hopeful that she’ll be able to reopen the restaurant in another location. For now, her focus will be Frita Batidos.
“I’ve always had this dream. Things were going really well at eve, and we were settled in,” said Aronoff, “but I’ve had the idea for Frita (Batidos) even before eve.”
gourmet food on a budget
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Ralph Leone has never had a formal cooking lesson. But he has been working in and around the restaurant industry since he was 12 years old, so he figures he knows a thing or two about what makes a great restaurant.
And earlier this month, he opened Leone’s Bistro at 2789 Washtenaw Ave., in the former location of Cottage Inn Café.
Leone’s has a higher-end menu. Leone said he was very conscious of the current economic climate when he set his prices, so he kept them reasonable. Lunch items range from $2.99 to $11.99, and dinner items range from $8.99 to $34.99.
Leone said his Italian heritage played a big part in the menu. He has Italian classics like chicken picata, chicken marsalla and lasagna. He also has pizzas, but they tend to be ones with a more gourmet feel. One called Ala Mara uses smoked salmon as a topping.
“I am Italian and do (the food) well,” Leone said of his restaurant’s menu.
ROBERT CONRADI THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Additionally, there are pizzas titled Shrimp Pie and Wild Pie — a pizza topped with wild mushrooms and sausages made from wild game.
Cooking wild game is a passion of Leone’s. In the past, he has created dishes from caribou, alligator, zebra and even lion. For now, though, he is taking a wait-and-see approach with his restaurant. He said those meats are expensive and he wants to be able to offer great food, but with reasonable prices.
Leone said his menu has been designed to pair well with wine. The restaurant will offer more than 300 different wines. The bistro has an extensive Italian selection but will also offer several Michigan wines. It is important to him, he said, to support the Michigan economy, so he will also be using more than 30 Michigan craft beers, including beer from the local Arbor Brewing Company.
While Leone’s will have pizzas on the menu, it will not be a revival of the Cottage Inn Café. The restaurant has been completely remodeled, using Leone’s vision, for the space he said he knew was perfect, despite its appearance. The space had been vacant for over five years.
“The minute I walked in and looked around, I said, ‘I’m in love with this place,’” Leone said. “It was in nightmare shape when we walked in.”
But he knew it would be the perfect location. It is a free-standing building, which he said is hard to find, and has great parking. He added that its close proximity to Ann Arbor, which is known for its foodies and wine connoisseurs, makes it that much more attractive.
After rehabbing the building in just 60 days, Leone’s opened its doors for the lunch crowd on September 7. The following week it opened for dinners as well, and Leone said despite a temporary hold up on a liquor license, the restaurant met its target in the first few weeks of being open.
Leone purchased the liquor license from Cottage Inn Café, and will be operating under a temporary management contract that allows it to have a full bar until the complete transfer takes place within 90 days.
Leone’s Bistro is open Monday through Friday starting at 11:30. Saturday and Sunday it will be open only for dinners starting at 4:00. Dinners will not be served past 10:00, but Leone said the restaurant will offer pizza and wings from its menu until at least midnight.
The bistro will also will have a full-service bar with a large-screen TV. Leone, who is a self-proclaimed huge University of Michigan fan, said the TV will always show football games on Saturdays.
For more information, check out Leone’s Bistro Facebook page at:
or call (734) 434-8600.
Like TVs ‘Cheers,’ Holiday’s brings folks together; where everybody knows your name
ANDREW KUHN WASHTENAW VOICE
Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter are all holidays that bring family and friends together to feast. Holiday’s on West Stadium Street brings all those features to a restaurant 365 days every year.
Between counting the register and working in his office owner Rob Terbush is constantly chatting with old and new customers.
“Quality food and quality people,” said regular Brian Earl, 50 from Ann Arbor whose favorite dish is the breakfast special with sausage, eggs and fruit. “Rob is a great guy. He’s like the neighborhood social worker helping everyone out. He helped me out with things.”
Holiday’s has been up and running for 13 years. It has seen its ups and downs like any business. Along with facing the economic struggles, Holiday’s has had problems with the construction on Stadium Street.
“We had days where we didn’t even have an entrance with the construction,” Terbush said.
From 2005-07 the construction on West Stadium destroyed Holiday’s growing business. It didn’t help that the economy wasn’t booming either.
“We went down about 50 percent (in service) the first year of construction,” Terbush said. “Our regulars kept us alive. Customers would say ‘no matter what, we’ll find a way in.’ The die-hards kept us alive.”
Since 2007, when the construction directly in front of the restaurant ended, business picked back up to what Terbush says is back to where it was in 2004.
Holiday’s offers a unique family-friendly service that gives the customers the drive to keep coming back through rough conditions. The service begins with a core staff that has been there for a long time, some through the entire 13 years.
“We wanted to make shirts saying West Side Cheers of Ann Arbor,” said Terbush, in between being interrupted by customers saying hi and bye. “Everyone knows your name here. When we see someone pull in, we’ll get their drink out on their favorite spot to sit before they get in.”
Terbush tries to find commitments when he hires new employees to keep regular faces serving customers. He doesn’t want students who are only going to be there for a semester.
“Even our cooks know the customers,” Terbush said. “They’ll know when a certain meal is ordered, who it’s for and how they like it.”
The statewide smoking ban to take place May 1 is already in effect at Holiday’s. After cleaning the fans and hoods, Terbush thought it’d be smarter to not fill it with smoke only to ban smoking two months later.
Without smoking, Holiday’s did lose some customers, but gained others due to the early ban. Customers already said they’d be returning when the ban reaches all businesses in May.
In order to stay healthy and answering customer surveys, Holiday’s recently underwent a menu change.
“We’re trying to be more health-conscious,” Terbush said. “Everyone, especially in Ann Arbor, is big on health. They want the good taste, but low fat and saturated fat.”
Holiday’s wanted to break away from the original breakfast, adding different things but keeping the favorites. Everything is offered, from the breakfast foods to lunch sandwiches and burgers to pasta, Mexican and seafood among other different varieties on the dinner menu.
More changes may come to Holiday’s as Terbush looks at possibilities of a patio and an alcohol license if the 2010 census lowers the cost.
“Right now, I haven’t heard of licenses cheaper than $55,000,” Terbush said. “The census may allow more for the area though.”
The restaurant would limit the drinks to keep the family tone of the restaurant.
Meantime Earl counts himself among those who keep coming back, because it feels like home where he’s surrounded by friends who know his name.
To check out Holiday’s menu for yourself visit http://holidaysrestaurant.com
Beezy’s: ‘simple, honest food’
Ypsilanti embraces trendy new eatery that features local fare
JOE SHARP WASHTENAW VOICE
Canadian-born Bee Mayhew always had a vision for what was uniquely different than any other restaurant in Ypsilanti.
“Nothing on the menu is trendy. I’m not interested in what the new wave of food is,” said Mayhew, 32, who has traveled extensively throughout the United States.
Beezy’s Coffee and Café is nestled in the heart of downtown Ypsilanti. But even walking down Washington Street, you wouldn’t see it until you were there. Located across from two bars and the local Déjà Vu, an art gallery down the street and several other local businesses nearby, Beezy’s has made its presence known.
Focused primarily on locally grown food and ingredients, Mayhew takes every opportunity to shop at the Ypsilanti Co-Op, Gordon’s Food Service, Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and even the quaint Dos Armanos, located on Michigan Avenue just two blocks from Beezy’s.
And her efforts have been rewarded. Recently, Mayhew learned that Beezy’s won the award from the Metro Times for “Best Cheap Breakfast” in Washtenaw County.
After years in the restaurant, Mayhew knows the importance of quality.
She got her first paying job as a 14-year-old at Roast and Toast, located in Petoskey. By the time she was 21, she had worked her way up to general manager.
“By the time I was 25 years old, I was really serious about my having my own spot and kind of worked my way through doing every position there,” she said, “even getting involved in community leadership programs and the Chamber (of Commerce), learning outside my realm, because all I had done was restaurant work my whole existence.”
Throughout her experience, she said, she came to understand the need for intimacy in the dining experience as well.
JOE SHARP WASHTENAW VOICE
“I think we’re too quick in our culture in general to be like, everyone is going to want this. Put it on the counter and put up some garish signage and sell the crap out of it and put in a plastic cup and send it off with a straw and say ‘goodbye,’” she said. “We don’t even print to-go menus,” said Mayhew. “Keep it small, keep it intimate, keep it in a manageable space.”
Beezy’s opened for business in November 2008, Mayhew said, because of “an angel investor,” someone who advised her not to open a spot in Ypsilanti, but backed her anyway because he believed in her.
“Maybe it’s that blinded enthusiasm and sort of this punk-rock Pollyanna, who’s like, ‘screw it, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and just do it,’” Mayhew said. “This has been certainly the biggest challenge of my life—right up there with having a 10-year-old daughter.”
Mayhew leads a relatively simple life, making the most of her resources. She’s an enthusiastic locavore, living on a diet—and featuring it in her restaurant—of foods typically grown close to home. And she’s never invested the time to even get a driver’s license.
“I just made sure that wherever I lived was close to where I worked, and that where I lived and worked had things I needed around it,” she said. “It forced me to simplify my lifestyle.”
Although her budget is tight, Mayhew finds ways to incorporate Beezy’s into the community with little to no impact to the budget.
“I can at least provide a space and positive word of mouth,” Mayhew said, “whether it’s hanging posters or talking to the people I know about things that happen.”
Beezy’s is open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. For more information, visit: http://www.beezyscafe.com
Tios spicy new digs does nothing for the taste buds
CHRIS ASADIAN THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Sitting on a bean bag chair facing a glowing TV, I took my first bite of a quesadilla delivered from Tio’s Mexican Café. I was having celebratory drinks with some classmates after our calculus exam, and I was starving.
That was five years ago, when chicken quesadillas were my food equivalent to kryptonite. Biting into the squishy, shredded chicken-filled quesadilla, my stunted taste buds could tell something wasn’t right. The overpowering ratio of chicken to tortilla tasted bland and turned me off. Maybe it was the alcohol, but, after a while, I gave up eating.
Since then, I only visited Tio’s old Ann Arbor location on E. Huron Street once to pick up nachos with a friend. The tiny restaurant was dark and wood-paneled like the hull of a ship decorated by rows of hot sauce. After Tios moved to a new location on 409 E. Liberty St., I thought, “Why not give it a try?”
Tios certainly has moved on up. For one thing, the dining room is more than double the size of the old place.
“We were a dive at the other spot,” said Jeremy Seaver, general manager and son of owner Tim Seaver.
The new location is more family friendly with its golden walls, burnt red moldings and an overhang painted sky blue with fluffy clouds. Several paintings by local artists mimic the work of Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
Old customers might be a little disappointed that Tios has mixed its old quirkiness with a more professional vibe. The staff no longer wears the tie-dyed Tio’s shirts. But Tio’s diehards can sit in what Jeremy Seaver calls “old Tios” – basically, a booth and table from the old restaurant backed-up against a wall of hot sauces.
Business has also been good. Smack-dab in the center of downtown, the new location has attracted old customers and newbies passing by.
“There’s more people that walk by in an hour than would walk by over [on E. Huron Street] in two days,” Tim Seaver said.
The expanded menu offers the old place’s “a la carte” items. Prices and portions are the same, and the chefs haven’t changed. Yet, I am baffled that this business receives awards and is a local favorite. Am I expecting too much now that it’s a sit-down restaurant?
Tios, round two, began on a sunny lunch-hour with my friend, Bill Hubenschmidt, who’s been gorging himself on southwestern food in Austin, Texas.
Sitting in the outdoor section, we ordered chips and salsa.
Sure, I’m a cheap college student, but $1.49 for chips and salsa?
When Tios adds alcohol, it’ll consider having free chips and salsa, Jeremy Seaver said. He adds that the cost of complimentary munchies is usually built into a restaurant’s prices.
Alright, you got me. We ordered the chips with medium and hot salsa. What we got was homemade salsa that seriously lacked spiciness. To be fair, Bill and I are chronic spice-addicts, meaning we expect spicy food to make us cry and sweat simultaneously.
When my wet burrito and Bill’s three tacos arrived, I almost did a tribal dance to the nacho gods at the sight of my colossal burrito sprinkled with cheese and basking in a pool of orangey-red sauce.
Jeremy Seaver said the wet burrito is Tio’s specialty. But after plopping the cheesy, gooey morsel of wet burrito into my mouth, I regretted paying the $7.99.
Hoping that I hadn’t wasted my money, denial set in. I cut further into the burrito, allowing the wet burrito sauce to mingle with the equally unappetizing goo of cheese, onions, tomatoes, beef and beans that oozed out of the burrito sack.
Its cheesy taste was appealing, but the lack of texture kind of killed it for me. Eventually I barricaded the moat of wet burrito sauce with the uneaten corner of my burrito, hoping that the sauce was the culprit.
Bill wasn’t having much success either with his Portobello taco, edamame taco (aka soy beans) and “authentico” taco. His tortillas fell apart while he tried to force feed himself.
A half hour later, we left unsatisfied taste-wise, yet uncomfortably full.
Our bill totaled $25 – a little steep for a meal that hung its hat on large portions and excellent guacamole. If I had eaten just chips with the guacamole and salsa, I would’ve been happy.
When they get that liquor license, I’ll consider coming back and having nachos with a few margaritas. Maybe the drunken taste buds will make for a better dining experience.